This series analyzes the show, but sometimes references the books as well. If you read it, expect spoilers for both.
When last we saw our heroes, Team Dany was at the (conveniently empty) castle of Dragonstone about to plan an invasion, Euron was galivanting off to parts unknown to deliver an unknown gift to Cersei, Arya was off to kill Cersei, and the Hound and company were heading north to do… something or other. Sam is in Oldtown noticing conspicuously circled things in restricted books and nearly getting infected with greyscale (It’s transmitted through touch, Jorah. Keep your hands to yourself!). Jon, Sansa, and Littlefinger are at Winterfell, not really doing much so far. Bran is finally south of the wall. I think that pretty much covers everyone.
The Wages of Adaptation
We start at Dragonstone. The first part of the scene consists of Dany’s brain trust repeating things we already know. Among its other faults this show has a habit of repeating exposition two and three times. To me it feels like padding.
But the scene quickly improves. Dany confronts Varys about where his loyalties lie – in the show-continuity, he’s twice conspired against the King he was supposed to be serving, and Daenerys is understandably wary of his intentions in the future. Varys gets to give a good speech explaining his own actions. It one way, it clarifies the character. In another way, it muddles practically everything that’s happened so far.
This is one of those moments where I feel I have to bring in book knowledge, because it affects how I think this character is supposed to be viewed. To give you the reader’s digest version, in the books there’s another Targaryen: Aegon, a son of Rhaegar’s. Varys and Illyrio (the merchant who originally brokered the Daenerys-Drogo wedding in both books and show) have been keeping his existence secret for quite some time. Aegon, to Varys, is the perfect monarch: one who’s been trained since birth with not only the necessary skills, but also (Varys hopes) the necessary appreciation for his duty to the common people of Westeros.
In the books, Aegon’s existence is the revelation that makes many of Varys’ mysterious actions retroactively make sense. In the show, Aegon never appears. Not only that, but Varys also admits that it was him who sent the assassin after Daenerys. In the books the assassin was motivated by a public offer of a lordship for whoever killed her – a scheme thought up by Littlefinger, not Varys. Suddenly Varys has a whole lot of splainin to do, to both Daenerys and the audience.
TFW when your character`s primary motivation has been cut for time.
Daenerys asks “Before I came to power, you favored my brother. All your spies, your little birds – did they tell you Viserys was cruel, stupid, and weak? Would those qualities have made for a good King, in your learned opinion?”
That’s a very good question. It’s one Varys doesn’t answer. Instead, he skips ahead, past his reasons for supporting Viserys, and to his ignorance of Daenrys’ qualities as a leader: “Before your marriage to Khal Drogo, Your Grace, I knew nothing about you, save your existence and that you were said to be beautiful.” That’s not an answer to her question, of course. Varys doesn’t have an answer, because the show itself doesn’t have an answer.
I don’t mean to be too critical. This is one of the challenges of adaption. After watching this scene, I immediately became suspicious of something, and headed to wikipedia to check. Yep, suspicion confirmed: this is a Bryan Cogman-written episode. Though Bryan Cogman has written his share of nonsense on this show, he, much more so than the showrunners Benioff and Weiss, he at least occasionally gives the impression that he wants characters and their actions to stand up to scrutiny. Here he does the best job that can be expected in writing Varys out of this particular corner.
But I can’t help but be frustrated by the whole process. Varys is a favorite character of mine in the books, and in the show his actor (Conleth Hill) I think portrays him very well. Why did they have to cut Aegon? They couldn’t have cut the ridiculous Euron instead? Or some of Arya’s stickfighting scenes? Or the two separate scenes, both excruciatingly long, where Tyrion tries to play drinking games with a pair of teetotalers? Or the scene where Tyrion convinces the clergy of R’hllor to support Daenerys, when the audience had already been shown they were doing that anyway? Or – I should just stop, or we’ll be here all night.
Next up is Melisandre, who’s arrived at Dragonstone. She tells Daenerys about the whole “Prince who was promished” prophecy, which Missandei points out can also refer to a Princess. Melisandre also tells her about Jon Snow, who she apparently didn’t know was King. Cersei and Jaime knew that before Daenerys even arrived, right? And Team Dany has been at Dragonstone long enough that Melisandre heard it about it and had time to travel here, and – you know what, nevermind. The logic by which characters on this show know some things and not others is completely opaque to me. Also, even when Melisandre specifically mentions Jon Snow’s connection to the Lord of Light, his death and resurrection once again go conspicuously unmentioned. I should probably stop harping on that. We’ll see if I can contain myself.
Of all the things that movies and TV shows put in medieval castles almost every time, `braziers lit in the middle of the day` is the one that makes me scratch my head the most.
Tyrion sends a message to Winterfell, which arrives in the very next scene. Despite Daenerys making a big deal of the whole “kneel before your rightful Queen” thing, Jon and company don’t even mention it. I couldn’t tell from the shot they showed of the message, but it seems like Tyrion might have left that part out. Either way, the Winterfell brain trust has decided that meeting with Team Dany is too risky, at least for now. This makes sense, as you would expect powerful nobles to be alert to the possibility of betrayal, and to show some concern for their own personal safety. This brings us to our next scene, in King’s Landing.
The Scene Where Powerful Nobles Show No Concern for Their Personal Safety
A bunch of Tyrell bannermen are standing in the throne room. Why? I’m not sure. As Cersei helpfully explains, the house they’re sworn to is in open rebellion against the Iron Throne. So why would they agree to go to the Red Keep, unarmed and unarmored and surrounded by Lannister guards? It can’t be because they were captives – one of them is Lord Randyll Tarly, Sam’s father, last seen at Horn Hill safe and sound. I mean, Cersei is still wearing the same dress she wore when she killed the head of House Tyrell and his two children. That’s the whole reason they’re in rebellion, isn’t it? Isn’t this reckless past the point of sense?
Am I the only one that finds the Kingsguard`s new eeeevil uniforms comical?
“If my Queen summons me, I answer the call,” Lord Tarly explains, “and I’ve heard what she does to those who defy her.” This is what I’m talking about when I say the balance of power on this show operates by Calvinball rules. The rules of succession by which Cersei became Queen are never explained, and yet Lord Tarly considers her legitimate to the point of overlooking her mass murder and the extremely suspicious death of the old King. And how is it that House Tyrell is in open rebellion without any of its bannermen? Doesn’t seem like that would be much of a rebellion. I assume there’s supposed to be some sort of tension in this conflict, but I can’t get invested in it when I have no clues as to what the relative strength of each side is.
To top it all off, Randyll Tarly appears to intend to fight for House Tyrell. So why would they even let him leave the castle? Jaime doesn’t blanch at his sister blowing up the Great Sept, with many of her own relatives inside it, but apparently detaining the opposing side’s most capable general before an upcoming war is a bridge too far. The scene ends with Lord Randyll’s decision ambiguous.
As a side note, the guy who plays Lord Randyll’s son Dickon is both conspicuously named and played by the guy who played Billy Bones on Black Sails. He’ll probably be important later.
We check in briefly with Ser Jorah and Samwell. Jorah will only be allowed to stay one more day. Sam is appropriately concerned. Is he really just going to stumble across a cure in some old book or something? Probably.
Medieval apothecaries didn`t have access to modern skin moisturizing creams.
Team Dany Invasion Planning Committee
We’re back at Dragonstone. Lady Olenna, Ellaria Sand, and Yara are all here, so it’s all hands on deck. First up: the show acknowledges that Ellaria Sand killed Myrcella! I admit, I expected them to just flush that down the memory hole. I suspect that this is another bit of continuity clean-up that wouldn’t have happened had Benioff and Weiss written the episode.
Queen Daenerys doesn’t want to attack King’s Landing. Apparently it would cause too much death, and she doesn’t want to be “Queen of the Ashes.” She is, however, willing to attack all the “capitals” (not really the right choice of word) around King’s Landing, which will cause less death for reasons I’m not sure I entirely understand. Yes, King’s Landing is a densely populated city, but it’s not like you have to burn the whole thing down to take it. Do you? Does Dany have control over her dragons or not? Once again the characters on the screen seem to have access to a secret set of rules and constraints that are never provided to the audience.
No time to worry about that. Tyrion has decided that the Dothraki and the Unsullied – also known as basically Queen Daenerys’ entire army – can’t be used for PR reasons. Instead, Yara and Ellaria are going to Sunspear to collect the Dornish army. I just want to briefly point out that Ellaria and the Sand Snakes have killed the Prince of Dorne, his bodyguard, the King’s sister, her fiancee (and the heir to House Dorne), and even the poor sap who told them Jaime and Bronn were in the country in the first place. They kill practically every named character they come across. I have no idea why anyone considers them trustworthy enough to team up with.
I have a feeling they`re going to get a lot of mileage out of these props.
Tyrion reveals the final wrinkle in his brilliant plan: the Unsullied and Dothraki will attack Casterly Rock. Unlike having them attack King’s Landing, this won’t be a PR problem, for reasons we’re not privy to. This plan seems to impress everyone at the table. Casterly Rock is the seat of Lannister power, somehow, even though the Lannisters have been powerful for six seasons and counting without us ever even seeing it. What will Cersei not be able to do anymore without it? Who knows. We’ve already established in a previous season that the Lannister gold mines have run dry, so it’s not that. And the foods that feeds the city comes from the Reach, or so we’re told. Maybe that’s where the Lannister army comes from? But I thought that army was at King’s Landing?
I can come up with answers for these questions, and probably you can too. Unsatisfying answers, true, and answers that just lead to more questions, true, but answers of a sort. The thing is, I really shouldn’t have to, and neither should you. If I have to put your story through an entire interpretive gymnastic routine in order to make it coherent, you’ve done something wrong.
The Grey Worm/Missandei Scene Was Actually Very Good
Let’s not dwell on the bad stuff. The Grey Worm/Missandei scene was good – not only good, but, in my opinion, good in a daring way. Conceptually, this scene is one hair away from being completely ridiculous and cringeworthy. It must have taken some nerve to even write it. But I think the outcome is touching, simple, and real.
It’s surprising to me because of one particular thing. Grey Worm is a eunuch, and up until now this show has been consistently obnoxious about its eunuchs. In seasons five and six Varys could barely get a word in edgewise without someone finding some new way to point out that he doesn’t have a penis. And yet here, Grey Worm’s condition is treated as a source of first shame, and then relief as Missandei accepts him for who he is anyway. So, good on the show for that.
Back to Ser Jorah: yep, Sam just stumbled across a cure in some old book. The Maesters don’t use it because it’s “too dangerous,” despite the fact that greyscale is firmly established to be a terminal disease in cases like Jorah’s. But Sam, who has learned to be a surgeon in record time, won’t let that stop him. We’re treated to an overly long and wince-inducing barely-anesthetized surgery scene. Wahoo.
Sam has seen a zombie army and cured greyscale. Surely that must merit some extra credit?
At the by-now-familiar inn at the crossroads, Hot Pie returns to inform Arya that her brother is still alive, and King in the North now. How exactly Arya didn’t already know this I have no idea. Didn’t she masquerade as Walder Frey for a fortnight, at least, if her dialogue is to be believed? No one at The twins even mentioned in passing that there was a brand new King in the realm? Well, I guess Cersei has Hot Pie to thank that she won’t eat Jaime in an omelette tomorrow morning.
The message Sam wrote to Jon last episode, about the dragonglass underneath Dragonstone, must have been delivered by an extra-slow raven or something, because it’s only just now arrived in Winterfell. Jon announces that he’s going to Dragonstone to meet Queen Daenerys, a decision that, judging by Sansa’s expression, he didn’t bother sharing with her beforehand. Withholding key decisions from his closest allies: that’s the natural knack for leadership that made him King in the North. He puts Winterfell in her hands until he returns. You probably think he should’ve warned her about that, too, but that’s why you’re not King in the North material and never will be.
Littlefinger, standing in his designated lurking spot, seems to approve. Later he schemes in Jon’s general direction down in the crypts. Jon chokes him a little and then walks off. They don’t seem to get along well. It’s still not clear what Littlefinger is trying to do here, but I’m reasonably certain that when we find out it’ll make no sense.
The family crypt. This seems like an appropriate place to creep on your sister.
Arya is traveling north to Winterfell, and meets Nymeria. This scene isn’t bad, though I expect we’ve now hit our direwolf quota for the season. Enjoy this scene, because it’s all downhill from here.
All My Least Favorite Characters in One Sequence!
I don’t like Yara because she rapes sex slaves and tries to shout and browbeat Theon’s horrific abuse away, I don’t like Ellaria because she’s killed not one but several innocent people and is a complete inversion of her much better book incarnation, and I don’t like Euron because everything about him is ridiculous. I don’t like the Sand Snakes because… well, do I even have to explain? Theon is ok though. It’s too bad he’s stuck with this bunch.
Yara and Ellaria have barely learned each other’s names before they’re diving into each other’s pants, only to be rudely interrupted by a long, dark, confusing, and shakicammed-to-high-heaven battle sequence. Two Sand Snakes are killed (maybe more? I couldn’t actually keep track), and Ellaria is captured.
It ends with Euron holding an axe to Yara’s throat and mocking Theon for being a “cockless coward.” Theon was apparently expected to do something here, but I’m not sure what. Euron was holding her hostage, right? If Theon had rushed him, wouldn’t Euron have just killed her? So what was he supposed to do? He decides to jump overboard, saving his own life, and I guess we should be disappointed.
TFW your brother decides not to provoke someone into killing you.
Now Yara and Ellaria are both in Euron’s clutches. Since it seems pretty obvious that they’re trying to make Euron the next Ramsey, I’d say they’re both in for some gratuitous torture. Established as love interests in one episode, fridged the next. This show is nothing if not efficient. Maybe it’ll prove me wrong. I was wrong about Myrcella’s death not being mentioned, after all. We’ll see.
See you next week.